The Kingdom of Dahomey (actual Republic of Benin)


The Kingdom of Dahomey was a West African kingdom located within present-day Benin that existed from approximately 1600 until 1904.


The name Dahomey would mean “-the belly of Dah”, according to a legend; it is said, in fact, that in the 18th century a general who was besieging the city of Canna made a vow to sacrifice his king Dah, if he took the city; after his victory, he carried out his wish by massacring the sovereign and placing in his open belly the first stone of his palace.


According to other authors, the country should rather be called Dan-homé or "belly of the serpent", and this name would refer to the legend of a sacred serpent, whose cult was celebrated in Ouidah.


Founded, it seems, in 1625, the kingdom of Abomey rapidly became dominant. Its successive sovereigns launched several wars of conquest against their neighbors, particularly the Yoruba, and managed to enlarge their domain significantly.


The political and territorial unit constituted after the absorption at the beginning of the 18th century of Allada and Ouidah received the name of Kingdom of Dahomey. The kingdom of Porto-Novo broke away from it at the beginning of the 18th century. It was ruled by two kings, one of whom ruled by day and the other by night. A series of countries subject to Dahomey also broke away from it during the 19th century and, although exposed to its claims and warlike incursions, in fact, became distinct and independent.


The Kingdom of Dahomey is subject to a totalitarian and warmongering regime. It has a finicky tax administration, where civil servants are watched over by the king's wives. The craftsmen themselves, tightly controlled, must produce art to the exclusive glory of the sovereign and his incredible feats of arms. Two features of civilization have often been noted: the famous Amazons, who correspond to the establishment, after the capture of Ouidah, of military training for women; and bloodthirsty cults, such as that of human sacrifices in Abomey (particularly during the “great custom” festival celebrated after the death of the king), and Vodou, along the coast, associated among other things with a cult of snakes.


Gradually, from the 17th century, France supplanted its European colonialist competitors and established a protectorate over Dahomey which resulted from various treaties (1841, 1858, 1868, 1878); but, when she wished to exercise it effectively, King Behanzin, a successor of Glé-Glé, opposed the establishment of the French.

Commander Terrillon's expedition in 1890, short but murderous, had as its epilogue the treaty of October 3, 1890, by which Behanzin recognized the French protectorate over Porto-Novo. Total annexation was decreed in 1900 and the country only regained its independence in 1960. The country changed its name to the Republic of Benin in 1975.